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In foods and beverages, glycerol serves as a humectant, solvent,
and sweetener, and may help preserve foods. It is also used as
filler in commercially prepared low-fat foods (e.g., cookies), and
as a thickening agent in liqueurs. Glycerol and water are used to
preserve certain types of leaves. As a sugar substitute, it has
approximately 27 calories per teaspoon (sugar has 20) and is 60% as
sweet as sucrose. Although it has about the same food energy as
table sugar, it does not raise blood sugar levels, nor does it feed
the bacteria that form plaques and cause dental cavities. As a food
additive, glycerol is labeled as E number E422.
Glycerol is also used to manufacture mono- and di-glycerides for
use as emulsifiers, as well as polyglycerol esters going into
shortenings and margarine.
It is also used as a humectant (along with propylene glycol
labelled as E1520 and/or E422) in the production of snus, a
Swedish-style smokeless tobacco product.
As used in foods, glycerol is categorized by the American
Dietetic Association as a carbohydrate. The U.S. Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) carbohydrate designation includes all caloric
macronutrients excluding protein and fat. Glycerol has a caloric
density similar to table sugar, but a lower glycemic index and
different metabolic pathway within the body, so some dietary
advocates accept glycerol as a sweetener compatible with low
 Pharmaceutical and personal care
Glycerol is used in medical and pharmaceutical and personal care
preparations, mainly as a means of improving smoothness, providing
lubrication and as a humectant. It is found in allergen
immunotherapies, cough syrups, elixirs and expectorants,
toothpaste, mouthwashes, skin care products, shaving cream, hair
care products, soaps and water-based personal lubricants. In solid
dosage forms like tablets, glycerol is used as a tablet holding
agent. For human consumption, glycerol is classified by the U.S.
FDA among the sugar alcohols as a caloric macronutrient.
Glycerol is a component of glycerin soap, which is made from
denatured alcohol, glycerol, sodium castorate (saponified Castor
bean oil), saponified cocoa butter, saponified tallow, sucrose,
water, and sometimes sodium laureth sulfate. Essential oils are
added for fragrance. This kind of soap is used by people with
sensitive, easily-irritated skin because it prevents skin dryness
with its moisturizing properties. It draws moisture up through skin
layers and slows or prevents excessive drying and evaporation. It
is possible to make glycerol soap at home.
Used as a laxative when introduced into the rectum in
suppository or small-volume (2–10 ml)(enema) form; irritates the
anal mucosa and induces a hyperosmotic effect.
Topical pure or nearly pure glycerol is an effective treatment
for psoriasis, burns, bites, cuts, rashes, bedsores, and calluses.
It can be used orally to eliminate halitosis, as it is a contact
bacterial desiccant. The same property makes it very helpful with
periodontal disease; it penetrates biofilm quickly and eliminates
 Surface science
Glycerol is shown to reduce the coefficient of friction of
polymer coated surfaces by several orders of magnitude. This effect
is attributed to the enhanced viscosity of glycerol-water solutions
as compared to the pure water.
 Botanical extracts
When utilized in 'tincture' method extractions, specifically as
a 10% solution, glycerol prevents tannins from precipitating in
ethanol extracts of plants (tinctures). It is also used as a
substitute for ethanol as a solvent in preparing herbal
extractions. It is less extractive when utilized in tincture
methodology and is approximately 30% more slowly absorbed by the
body resulting in a much lower glycemic load. Fluid extract
manufacturers often extract herbs in hot water before adding
glycerin to make glycerites.
When used as a primary true alcohol-free (e.g. no alcohol (i.e.
ethanol) ever being used) botanical extraction solvent in
innovative non-tincture based 'dynamic' methodologies, glycerol has
been shown, both in literature and through extraction applications,
to possess a high degree of extractive versatility for botanicals
including removal of numerous constituents and complex compounds,
with an extractive power that can rival that of alcohol or
water/alcohol solutions. That Glycerol possess such high extractive
power assumes that Glycerol, with its tri-atomic structure, is
utilized with dynamic methodologies as opposed to standard passive
'tincturing' methodologies that are better suited to alcohol's
di-atomic structure. Glycerol possesses the intrinsic property of
not denaturing or rendering a botanical's constituents inert.
Glycerol is a stable preserving agent for botanical extracts that,
when utilized in proper concentrations in an extraction solvent
base, does not allow inverting or REDOX of a finished extract's
constituents over several years. Both Glycerol and ethanol are
viable preserving agents. Glycerol is bacteriostatic in its action,
and ethanol is bactericidal in its action.
Main article: antifreeze
Like ethylene glycol and propylene glycol, glycerol is a
non-ionic kosmotrope that forms strong hydrogen bonds with water
molecules, competing with water-water hydrogen bonds. This disrupts
the crystal lattice formation of ice unless the temperature is
significantly lowered. The minimum freezing point temperature is at
about −36 °F / −37.8 °C corresponding to 60–70% glycerol in
Glycerol was historically used as an anti-freeze for automotive
applications before being replaced by ethylene glycol, which has a
lower freezing point. While the minimum freezing point of a
glycerol-water mixture is higher than an ethylene-glycol mixture,
glycerol is not toxic and is being re-examined for use in
In the laboratory, glycerol is a common component of solvents
for enzymatic reagents stored at temperatures below 0 °C due to the
depression of the freezing temperature of solutions with high
concentrations of glycerol. It is also used as a cryoprotectant
where the glycerol is dissolved in water to reduce damage by ice
crystals to laboratory organisms that are stored in frozen
solutions, such as bacteria, nematodes, and fruit flies.
 Chemical intermediate
Glycerol is used to produce nitroglycerin, or glycerol trinitrate (GTN), which is
an essential ingredient of smokeless gunpowder and various
explosives such as dynamite, gelignite, and propellants like
cordite. Reliance on soap-making to supply co-product glycerine
made it difficult to increase production to meet wartime demand.
Hence, synthetic glycerin processes were national defence
priorities in the days leading up to World War II. GTN is commonly
used to relieve angina pectoris, taken in the form of
sub-lingual tablets, or as an aerosol spray.
A great deal of research is being conducted to try to make
value-added products from crude glycerol (typically containing 20 %
water and residual esterification catalyst) obtained from biodiesel
production, as an alternative to disposal by incineration. The use
of crude glycerin as an additive to biomass for a renewable energy
source when combusted or gasified is also being explored.
- Hydrogen gas production unit
- Glycerine acetate (as a potential fuel additive)
- Conversion to